Cambodia’s 44-year medal jinx at the Asian Games continued to cast its spell on the Kingdom’s tennis players, swimmers and beach volleyball pair during the first week of action at the South Korean city of Incheon
Taekwondo star Sorn Sivmey led Cambodia’s march as its flag bearer in last Friday’s opening ceremony, marking the 60th anniversary of the country’s participation in the world’s second-biggest sporting spectacle after the Olympics.
Even as the Kingdom’s medal focus now shifts to the wrestling, taekwondo and athletics in the coming days, the sporting community is mulling over the performances of the tennis, swimming and beach volleyball teams.
Saturday’s opening day of the 17th edition of the quadrennial competition, involving 439 events over a flaming fortnight, was marked by an astounding world record weightlifting feat by North Korean Om Yun Chul and shocking expulsion of the United Arab Emirates men’s judo team.
But away from these headlining events, Cambodia’s unbeaten Davis Cup record in the last three years against Turkmenistan came crashing down in the first round of the men’s team tennis event after the Kingdom suffered a 3-0 reverse at the newly built Yeorumul Tennis Centre.
In the absence of Bun Kenny and Mam Panhara, who had steered Cambodia to decisive wins over the Turkmens in the Asia Oceania zone campaigns in 2012 (Doha) and 2014 (Tehran), the pressure was squarely on Long Samneang and Mam Phalkun to keep the record intact. However, they fell painfully short.
Turkmenistan began on a bright note when Mammetgulyyev Isa outplayed Long Samneang 6-1, 6-0. In the second singles, Cambodia’s No 1 pick Phalkun had a good chance to level the tie and drive the finish to the decisive doubles but he lost a very close call against Ernepesov Aleksandr in three pulsating sets 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 after blowing away three match points.
The differing moods of joy and sorrow were well reflected in the dead doubles that the Turkmenistan pair of Isa and Pochay Georgiy won without much ado 6-0, 6-1 against Phalkun and Samneang.
Cambodian-French player Andrea Ka, who is pursuing her studies in the United States, went out of the women’s singles first round on Wednesday, beaten 6-2, 6-2 by Uzbekistan’s 11th seeded Akgul Amanmuradova, the six-foot plus giant literally towering over her rival.
There was some cheer in the Cambodian camp as Mam Phalkun raced away to a 6-1, 6-3 win over Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Omar Fahmi in the men’s singles first round to set up a clash with seventh seeded Zhang Ze of China.
Currently ranked 190 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, Zhang Ze was totally unforgiving in his 6-0, 6-1 rout of Phalkun yesterday.
“All I could do was try to return his shots. I could not or did not have the ability to think about where to place or how deep to hit because every ball he hit was so forceful and penetrating,” Mam Phalkun told the Post by email after his match.
“I did have chances to be aggressive when he would mishit but I was very tentative even then.”
In quick time, 16th seeded Daniar Duldaev of Krygyzstan disposed of Long Samneang 6-1, 6-1 yesterday, bringing to an end Cambodia’s men’s tennis campaign.
In an evening match yesterday, Phalkun and Andrea progressed to the second round of the mixed doubles event with a 6-0, 6-1 demolition of Nepal’s Ira Mehernissa Rawat and Sakchyam Karki.
Swimmers fade away
Swimmers Hem Thon Ponleu and Hem Thon Vithiny, who are Cambodia’s most internationally experienced competitors, failed to make a splash in the pool at the Munhak Park Tae-hwan Aquatics Center, finding themselves out of depth after the initial phase.
Though Ponleu won his men’s 50m freestyle heat on Tuesday ahead of a Laotian and a Yemenese rival in a time of 27.46 seconds, he was more than three seconds off the pace of qualification for the final held later that day.
The gold went to China’s Ning Zetao in 21.95 ahead of Japanese pair of Shinri Shioura (22.11) and Kenta Ito (22.16).
Vithiny finished sixth in yesterday’s Heat 3 of the women’s 50m breaststroke with a time of 39.59, way behind the winner He Yuzhe of China at 31.83. Vithiny’s timing pushed her to 18th among 21 competitors and thus barred her advance to the next stage.
She will race in Heat 1 of the women’s 50m freestyle event this morning, while her uncle Ponleu will compete in the men’s 50m breaststroke qualifiers.
Meanwhile, Cambodia’s men’s beach volleyball pair of Sim Khlouk and Lim Samart were slotted into Group B alongside second seeds Santos-Pereira of Qatar, Perera-Wasantha of Sri Lanka and Hossain Mohammed Monir and Biswas Horosit of Bangladesh. The paired event had a field of 32 teams split into eight groups of four each.
The Cambodian duo crashed out of the competition on Wednesday after a 23-21, 21-15 loss to the Qatari team. In the lead up to this make or break encounter, Cambodia had on Monday beaten the Bangladeshis 21-13, 21-18 after losing the opening round to the Sri Lankans at 23-21, 18-21, 15-12 on Sunday.